If Not, Should He Be?
by Bangkapi Ajarn (Ron Drennan)
The NFL – and professional sports in general to be honest, is a “what have you done for me lately” world. Big money, big expectations, and all but one team in every league is always in “wait ’till next year” mode.
Despite the disappointing end to the year before, the marketing gurus for each team sells hope that the upcoming year will be better and more successful. New, better, more. As fans we mostly buy into the hype, big-time, and woe to those coaches that don’t turn those perceptions into performance.
Brian Finneran gives his take on the Falcons, and makes dead zone news
Enter former Falcons TE and current 680 radio personality Brian Finneran, he who was TG before TG was cool ( tall possession red zone and 3rd down target). Finn was a Falcon for quite a while, 2000 – 2010, missing two of those seasons with injuries before returning to cap off a respectable Falcons career of 236 receptions in 126 games over 11 years.
His career spanned two owners (Reeves family and Mr. Blank), four General managers (Reeves, Richardson, McKay, Dimitroff), six coaches (two of which flew thru when he was injured) and a number of QB’s that include Matt Ryan and Mike Vick.
While that doesn’t necessarily make Finneran an expert on the management of a football team, – any more than working on the assembly line at General Motors would qualify someone to decide who would be the best CEO for the company, it does earn him an audience and a respectful listen.
“Heads are going to roll” was his take on what would happen if things didn’t improve. He mentioned that the Coaching staff was “stressed”.
This brings up a legitimate point, and the subject of much discussion in the cage and elsewhere – After the trainwreck of a season in 2014 (note that the record – 4-12 – is the same as when Petrino stopped by for a cup of coffee and some post-it notes), should Smitty be on notice? Is this a win or go year for him? Should it be? How about Dimitroff, who is the one that gets the players?
Most successful coach in Falcons History
The numbers don’t lie – Coach Mike Smith is the winningest coach in Falcons history. Most wins, highest winning percentage for a non-interim coach with a 51-21 (.708) record (Rich Brooks has the record with am unassailable permanent perfect record of 2-0 in 1998 when Reeves had surgery). Only two Falcons head coaches have been voted coach of the year, Smith is one.
Falcons coaches by winning percentage:
(1.000) Rich Brooks
(.708) Mike Smith
(.667) Wade Phillips
(.542) Jim Mora
(.529) Leeman Bennett
(.450) Dan Reeves
(.433) Norm Van Brocklin
(.422) Jerry Glanville
(.396) June Jones
(.344) Dan Henning
(.333) Emmitt Thomas
(.333) Pat Peppler
(.240) Marion Campbell
(.234) Marion Campbell
(.231) Bobby Petrino
(.129) Norb Hecker
(.000) Jim Hanifan
While the obvious reason would be to get better, win more games, etc., change is always a trek into the unknown – things could get better, stay the same, or get worse.
In the Falcons sad, almost 50 year history there have been a grand total of 3 non-interim coaches with winning records – two under current ownership. Bennett, Mora, and Smith. In the two cases of winning coaches being replaced, for whatever reason, a trainwreck insued.
After our first winning coach Leeman Bennett left after the 1982 season, Dan Henning and his 4 years of .344 ball came in (22-41-1).
It took another 22 years and a new owner to get our next winning coach, Jim Mora (26-22). When Mora’s lust for the Pacific Northwest got the better of him, Petrino came in. Again, trainwreck.
Now, we have Smitty. With all his faults, he did turn around a smoldering pile of doggie poo into a winning team in one improbable season, booked consecutive winning seasons for the first time ever in franchise history, went to the playoffs, and won coach of the year. Out of 6 seasons with the franchise, only one stinkeroo – and that was as injury plagued a season as one will hopefully ever see.
Who would replace him?
As mentioned earlier, change is a venture into the unknown that can go any one of three ways – better, same, worse. In the case of a coaching change, history tells us the odds are heavily on the side of worse.
But, if we WERE to change, who would come in?
A) College Coach – This owner tried that once, I doubt he would do that again (ahem, Prictrino, cough cough).
B) Promote Nolan – There has been talk to Nolan as a head coach again, but his record would indicate that he is a perfect example of the Peter Principle – as a head coach in SF, his record of 18-37 (.327), finishing 4th once and 3rd twice got him fired 7 games into his 4th season. Smitty’s record, again, is over 70% wins even WITH that 4-12 stinkeroo season factored in.
C) Hire an experienced, previously fired head coach – Who that is out there, unemployed, and available would have a better W/L than Smitty, and be familiar with who we have?
D) Hire a successful assistant coach – This would be the most likely scenario, but is there anyone that could do better that who we have? Risky, and the odds AND history suggest no.
Areas for Improvement
As with any coach, there are areas that could be improved. Many have been adroitly analyzed in the cage, but a firm template for a Superbowl has yet to materialize. A good coach should be able to develop talent, inspire, gameplan and make adjustments to adapt to opponents game plans. Coach Synergy.
A) Develop Talent – The infamous Smitty witness protection program where talent is brought into the organization then promptly disappears has been a source of constant frustration. Sure, it is easier to direct talent that is already primed and ready to go than it is to train up almost ready talent to where they can perform on the big stage, but that is one of the reasons coaches get the big bucks.
B) Teaching, motivating, inspiring are time honored benchmarks of a good coach that have been hard to spot in the Falcon coaching staff in the past few years, although the new staff does give some hope. Do players get better as they spend time in this system? Are they fired up? Do they ever look beaten during a game?
C) Game Planning/adjustments – It seems that the second half belongs to the other team, that the adjustments game belongs to the Falcons opponents. Our best gameplans seem to be in the no huddle when Ice is calling the plays – not exactly out smarting the other teams with our braintrust. Third downs – when opponents NEED to get yards, they seem to do so on a disturbingly regular basis, another function of coaching/defensive alignments.
D) Is the record better than the individual parts? Looking at the stats, would you expect a better W/L record, or worse.
Is it the Front Office?
Again, let’s look at the history of the office, General Managers for the Falcons and how Thomas Dimitroff measures up –
General managers in the history of the Falcons, and the records of the Falcons during their tenure:
.625 Thomas Dimitroff
.526 Eddie LeBaron
.469 Dan Henning
.469 Rich McKay
.469 Harold Richardson
.460 Dan Reeves
.450 Norm Van Brocklin
.358 Ken Herock
.351 Tom Braatz
.286 Pat Peppler
.223 Frank Wall
Clearly, Thomas Dimitroff has outperformed all other GM’s in the Falcons history, and is only one of two that had winning records – the other leaving back in 1981. Smitty is his guy, it is very doubtful he would try to get Smitty replaced unless there was a total collapse. Their fates are currently entwined.
Is it the Ownership?
In the History of the Falcons, there have been three official owners, Rankin Smith who started the franchise, his son, and Arthur Blank when he bought the team from the Smiths.
. 374 Rankin Smith 24 years
.432 Taylor Smith 12 years
.544 Arthur Blank 12 years and counting
Arthur Blank is clearly the best owner in our history, setting overall policy and hiring good people on average.
The Falcon Filter that is widely attributed to Dimitroff is likely an ownership vision thing, inspired by the Vick fiasco and Blanks community service vision. Smitty is a good family friendly symbol for the Falcons, and would almost certainly have the support of Ownership for the long haul.
While ownership is in good hands at the moment, the future is always a cloud on the horizon that must be monitored. Arthur Blank will be 72 years old in September. His wife recently filed for divorce, after which he became engaged to Angie Macuga. He has 4 kids, but not sure what interest they would have or even if they would be involved with Mr. Blanks new lady.
At 72 an ownership change, possibly contentious, is an unfortunate possibility and would not be good for the franchise and would certainly muddle any potential coaching change. Mr. Blank’s continued health and happiness is likely the most important thing for the overall success of the Falcons.
Questions for The Cage
1) Is Smitty truly on the hot seat this year? Or, is Finn looking to stir interest (ratings) in his show during the offseason when so much attention is being redirected to the World Cup?
2) Will he be fired if he doesn’t make the playoffs?
3) Who would be available and a better choice at Head Coach than Smitty in 2015 if he is fired? Would TD be next?
4) In his first year here he turned a 4-12 (2007) disorganized, dispirited leaderless team into a 11-5 playoff team (2008) during his first year. What can he do with this team in 2014, with so many more pieces in place?
5) Considering the W/L records of his teams, and their stats on offense and defense, is he getting the best he can out of the team? Is his W/L record better or worse than the stats would suggest?